Sunday, April 30, 2006

Jewish groups join hands at thrift store

Terry O. Roen
Sentinel Staff Writer

April 26, 2006

DAYTONA BEACH -- An unusual partnership of Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews has resulted in an upscale thrift shop that benefits local synagogues and families touched by Alzheimer's disease.

The Gently Used Furniture Thrift Store is a 6,500-square-foot collection of costume jewelry, used appliances, clothing, toys and secondhand furniture at 801 Mason Ave. Volunteers from eight local Jewish organizations donate the items and work in the former gymnasium-turned-thrift-store.

"This is like getting the Democrats and Republicans together at one table and having everyone agree," said Bruce Barenbaun, president of the board that runs the store. "This is a first step for this community and marks a break with the past, because all the synagogues are united for one charitable cause."

Sales from the store will be divided evenly among the sponsoring organizations. The store opened April 9 and made $4,000 during its first three days, Barenbaun said. Organizers hope to clear $300,000 during the first year.

"We have a great location, a vast number of donors and constantly changing merchandise," Barenbaun said. "Every day is an adventure, because we never know what the truck will deliver."

The store has two paid employees and two trucks that pick up items. Volunteers from the affiliated organizations make up the rest of the staff.

"We invited the Alzheimer's Association to participate because it is a secular charity that touches so many lives," said Paul Cohen, who helped launch the store.

Bruce Pronovost, vice president of finance and administration for the Alzheimer's Association, said more than 17,000 people have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in Volusia and Flagler counties. Money raised from the store will pay for education and support services for families touched by the disease.

The participating organizations include Jewish Charities, Jewish Federation of Volusia & Flagler Counties, Temple Beth Shalom in Palm Coast, Congregation B'Nai Torah in Ormond Beach, Temple Beth-El in Ormond Beach, Temple Israel in Daytona Beach, Temple Israel in DeLand and Chabad Lubavitch of Greater Daytona in Ormond Beach, and the Alzheimer's Association of Central and North Florida.

The thrift store is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. It is closed on Saturday and 13 major Jewish holidays.

Terry O. Roen can be reached at or 386-851-7911.

Copyright © 2006, Orlando Sentinel

Prague Diary / Ambassadors of basketball

By Yoav Borowitz

PRAGUE - Walking through one of Prague's underground stations, I bump into Nadav, Roni and Morag, three young Israelis who live in Paris and work as at various Israeli institutions in the French capital. The trip to Prague cost them 400 euros each. "How could we not come to see Maccabi Tel Aviv?" asks Morag, and immediately responds to her own question: "It's the only Israeli team that brings honor - the country's team."

If Maccabi is "the country's team," then Nadav, Roni and Morag are its ambassadors. The three musketeers from Paris are yellow from head to toe, and a large Israeli flag tied to their backs flaps in the breeze like a cape.

They make a point of stressing just how secure they feel here. "I don't have the guts to walk around with an Israeli flag in France," says Nadav, who, in addition to his yellow shirt, is also wearing a Betar Jerusalem scarf around his neck.

"Flag?" Morag interjects. "I don't dare utter a word in Hebrew on the Metro in Paris."

Mini Israel

Pini Gershon will visit the grave of Rabbi Yehuda Loew, the Maharal of Prague. Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will give Pini a call. Maceo Baston says the better won. Tal Burstein says, "We will have to play well to win the final." Prague has been overrun by fans in yellow. How many of them are there? When do they land? The Chabad dinner. What about that Chabad dinner then? And Rabbi Gloiberman's meal. CSKA is a defensive side. Maccabi is an attacking team. Gershon will step down after the Final Four. Ettore Messina doesn't lose to Maccabi. The red foxes steal the show. Tau needs diapers when it sees Maccabi. Will Solomon is very effective. Solomon is disruptive. Have you passed it onto the Web site? Pictures? Do you have a segment of Pini walking? No? Channel 2 has one! Where can one find a cheap pizzeria here? Is Prague in Moscow? What's the difference? The travel agent is ripping us off. He's the one and only - a mini Israel in Prague.

Zappa's coming

To get an idea of just how uninterested the local population is in the Final Four, you only need to have a word with Vladimir, a charming Czech who is at the Sazka Arena, the venue for the marginal event we are covering, to purchase concert tickets for his son, who is at college in the United States. Frank Zappa and Guns & Roses are coming to town.

"The tickets cost a lot of money, but not as much as the ones for your basketball," he says. "So what is going on here - Euroleague? I don't understand what it is all about, or how much money they want. And I am a sports lover. But sport for me is soccer, tennis or hockey. I don't understand why one has to pay so much money for your basketball."

'Nikola the amazing'

There's a nightclub at the exit from the Republiki underground station. The name is of no significance. It is filled with beautiful women from the United States, England, Colombia and just about everywhere else. The men here are dressed in stylish suits and ties, and quality Czech beer and fancy cocktails are a plenty. The music is good too - Chillout, with a touch of excellent House.

And then in walk the Maccabi fans after the victory over the Spanish enemy, all dressed in ridiculous yellow shirts from the various travel agencies. They take to the dance floor, making a circle like at a wedding. And instead of courteously asking one of the beautiful young women to dance, they burst into song: "Oh Nikola, Nikola, Nikola the amazing."

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Frontier Pesach

Karaganda, Kazakhstan - The Salop home at 18 Kopliskaya St., a one-story wooden building along the main road of Slutsk, was lit with kerosene lamps and crowded with a few guests on the seder nights of 1929.

David Salop’s grandfather, a Russian worker’s cap on his head, led the seders. The conversation was in Yiddish; the readings, in Hebrew. Salop, the only child present, did the Four Questions — the Fier Kashes, he says — in Yiddish.

Those are Salop’s most vivid memories of that Passover in Belarus — then known as Byelorussia, or White Russia — between the Russian Revolution and World War II. He was 5 then; a resident of Kazakhstan since 1941, a soldier in the Red Army from 1942-47, and a pensioner since 1995. He turned 82 last week.

Those seders he attended in his hometown were his last for almost six decades.

Josef Stalin’s agricultural collectivization policies, which brought widespread poverty and starvation across the Soviet Union, followed. Salop’s family, traditional Jews but not Orthodox, stopped holding seders. There was no food, little interest, he says.

On the second night of Pesach two weeks ago, Salop went to a seder again.

In a gray suit jacket that complemented his neatly combed full head of gray hair, topped by a black velvet kipa, he sat in the cafeteria of the Chabad Or Avner day school here, across from the head table where I led the seder as a volunteer.

Salop sang some long-forgotten holiday melodies, drank the Four Cups, and exchanged greetings with the night’s neighbors in Yiddish, his first language.

He came, he explained a few days later, “because I’m interested in tradition, because I am a Jew.”

A veteran of four decades in the mining industry, he was surrounded at the seder by a few dozen Jews, most of them fellow pensioners, many of them with roots or mishpoche in the area’s once-flourishing network of coal mines.

But the coal miner’s daughters stayed home.

“My wife is Russian,” Salop said during the first intermediate Hol Hamoed day of Passover, sitting in the lobby of a modest hotel down the street from the day school. “In my house there is no spirit of Judaism.” Neither his wife nor his two grown daughters, both doctors, have any interest in Jewish practices, he said.

Exiles Of Another Era
Salop is typical of the country’s estimated 40,000-50,000 Jews. Most are intermarried, assimilated, further from Judaism than the Jews anywhere else in the former Soviet Union.

Kazakhstan, the ninth-largest country in the world, is the largest of the FSU’s 15 now-independent republics, besides Russia itself. Nestled in the underbelly of mammoth Russia, between Siberia to the north and China to the southeast, it is the furthest east of the FSU’s republics, besides Russia itself. It is where thousands upon thousands of people, many Jews among them, fled or were exiled or imprisoned in labor camps in the first half of the 20th century.

Like Salop, many chose to stay.

Far from the Jewish population centers of places like Ukraine or Lithuania, and far from the large Jewish population in such metropolitan areas as Moscow or Leningrad, Kazakhstan, which had a maximum Jewish population of about 100,000 at the end of WWII, lacked the trained Jewish leadership or communal interest to sustain a semblance of Jewish life during the years of atheistic, Communist rule.

The cities of Russia, where small bands of Jewish activists risked imprisonment and unemployment, pre-Glasnost, to take part in underground classes or prayer services, were, comparatively speaking, hotbeds of Jewish life.

Kazakhstan barely had a pulse. It was the Jewish frontier.

Its Jewish community was little known in the West or recognized in the other Soviet republics. And Karaganda, a dusty, mining-industrial city of 600,000, even less so. “It’s a small city,” said Rabbi Meir Shainer, who heads the Chabad-Lubavitch chasidic group’s outreach activities here.

As recently as last month, when two teenage Jewish girls from Kazakhstan qualified for an international Jewish talent show in Moscow – the teens, who sang and danced to Hebrew tunes, were the first from the country to attend the event – the head of the competition asked a leader of Karaganda’s Jewish community, “There are Jews there?”

The city’s Jewish population is between 1,000 and 1,500, community leaders estimated.

Today, as throughout the former Soviet Union and the once-Communist countries of Eastern Europe, Kazakhstan is experiencing a Jewish revival. But it is smaller, and later in developing, than in many of the other Jewish communities that first experienced freedom of religion a decade and a half ago.

Aliyah and migration to the United States and Germany have reduced the country’s population figure, but here, as elsewhere in the formerly Communist world, other Jews — attracted by nostalgia and financial assistance — started to affiliate with the Jewish community when the dangers disappeared in the last several years.

Biggest Seder In Decades
The seder two weeks ago was the first full-length Pesach meal held in Karaganda on the night of Pesach since communism fell, Rabbi Shainer said. He or rabbis from abroad led abbreviated seders in the afternoon, more convenient for the elderly Jews who comprise most of the participants, in the last few years.

Chabad hosted last week’s seder, with the cooperation of Chesed, the local branch of the social service-cultural organization that provides a wide array of services in several ex-Soviet republics and is supported by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

I led the seder under the auspices of the JDC.

During a week in Kazakhstan I visited isolated Jews aided by Chesed; I toured large synagogues established by Chabad in Almaty, the country’s largest city and former capital, and in Astana, the capital since 1997. I attended a Sunday afternoon Passover meal-celebration sponsored by Chesed in Karaganda’s largest café. I traded Pesach stories with a few Jewish retirees at a meal hosted by one pensioner couple as part of the “Warm House” program that offers the elderly companionship and moral support. I watched students from the Or Avner school burn a pile of chometz in the school’s courtyard on the eve of the holiday.

The children learned about Passover traditions in school, then went home and educated their parents, Rabbi Shainer said. Some Karaganda Jews, probably fewer than 100, held seders in their homes, he said.

The rabbi handpicked the people invited to the second-night communal seder; few would come two nights. He asked members of the community he judged sincerely interested in the holiday traditions, not just a meal.

“Each year [observance of Pesach] becomes more important,” he said.

“They would like to know the traditions of their fathers,” said Alexander Baron, president of Mitsva, Kazakhstan’s Jewish National Organization.

Passover celebrations and a Purim party are the most popular events for Karaganda’s Jews, Rabbi Shainer said. Seders are held around the country, in a score of cities and towns, in schools and synagogues, cafes and theaters. Most are led by members of the community.

For the participants, the seders are an opportunity to socialize with other Jews. For the sponsoring organizations, the seders are a chance to find out who the Jews are and what their needs are.

In addition to Chesed and Chabad, other organizations that lead seders annually in once-Communist lands include the Yeshiva University-based YUSSR organization, Hillel and Hebrew Union College.

The Or Avner cafeteria, a medium-sized room with cream-colored walls and lace curtains across the windows, glowed for the Karaganda seder. Round plastic tables, covered with white tablecloths, were arranged in a U-shape.

The invitees, a majority of them senior citizens, with a handful of young couples and children, arrived early. They were dressed in their holiday best.

I told some stories and gave some brief explanations. Katya Abramovitch, daughter of Alexandr Abramovitch, Chesed program director, translated my words. Before the Ten Plagues, I passed out some toy frogs and other items – donated by Baltimore’s Congregation Tiferes Yisroel, Manhattan’s J. Levine Books & Judaica, and Lisa and Leonard Levy of Forest Hills, friends of mine – intended to make ancient history come alive.

When I opened the door for Elijah, I explained the symbolism: for centuries, Jews lived under oppression, afraid of their neighbors, afraid to open the doors of their homes.

After the seder, Salop wished me a gut yuntiff, and other participants took home some of the ceiling-high stacks of matzah the school was distributing.

Two men, 40-ish, in suits, came up to me. They did not introduce themselves, but one started speaking. “As official representatives of the Jewish community of Karaganda,” he said, “we wish to thank you for coming to teach us about the seder.”

Then he turned apologetic. “For many years,” he said, “we did not have the opportunity to learn about our traditions.” It was dangerous, under communism, to practice any form of religion. I understood, I said.

The man shook my hand. Then he pointed to the cafeteria door I had opened a few minutes earlier, during the seder. “We are glad,” he said, “that we no longer are afraid to open the door.”

Steve Lipman’s visit to Kazakhstan was sponsored by the Joint Distribution Committee.

As membership drops in some synagogues, many Jews seek small group settings

By James Janega
Tribune staff reporter

April 28, 2006

When Amy Stein returned to Chicago after five years in Jerusalem, she missed the sense of belonging to a community so universal in religious scholarship and unique in personalities.

Fearing Chicago would never be the spiritual home Israel had been, she spent the next decade in Chicago "shul surfing"--hunting for the perfect synagogue and never quite finding it.

Last year, the 11th on her search, she found the Mitziut Jewish Community in East Rogers Park--a religious group on the fringe of American Jewry, complete with drum circles, drop-in meditations and Kabbalistic study.

As American Judaism searches for itself in the 21st Century, many Jews are looking to these smaller, more intimate religious experiences, even carving them out within larger synagogues. Such small group settings are called chavurot--Hebrew for "fellowships."

`Intimate experience'

"People are looking for a more intimate kind of experience in the context of things that have taken place in the larger society," said Arnold Dashevsky of the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life in Connecticut.

The phenomenon is small-scale and has roots in 1960s-era hippie Judaism. Each such group, chavurah in the Hebrew singular, typically has 10 to 50 members and often meets in members' homes. The groups may or may not include a rabbi and often offer extracurricular spiritual activities that might raise eyebrows at some congregations, said Steve Lipton, a local drum circle leader.

As Stein got to know the closely knit Mitziut community--an eclectic mix of praying artists and singing therapists who shared an intense interest in exploring what made each of them Jewish--she realized she had found a home.

"I felt it in my soul, some deep place in my heart," said Stein, a 37-year-old pharmacy benefits project manager. "It reminds me of when I was a kid in an overnight Jewish camp, or in Jerusalem, where you're closer to God."

Larger and more established congregations are trying to replicate those good feelings by creating similar experiences for members.

"At 8 o'clock Friday night, there's not only one monolithic experience taking place in the synagogue, but many different services," said Rabbi Douglas Goldhamer of Congregation Bene Shalom in Skokie, where song services and meditation classes have been added and where a healing chapel is under construction.

At Evanston's Beth Emet the Free Synagogue, where Lipton is a member, two Saturday services are offered--one traditional and the other more free-form. And both groups are among those seeking to tailor more opportunities to meet in smaller, more personal groups.

"The synagogue is saying, `They're all of equal value; take a look at what interests you,'" Goldhamer said of the increased offerings at such congregations.

The changes, made gradually over the last decade or so, occur against a backdrop of outreach efforts attempting to reverse dropping attendance at Sabbath services and declining membership in synagogues.

More than 5 million people in the United States identified themselves as Jewish in 2001, according to the National Jewish Population Survey that year. The number had dropped 6 percent from a decade earlier, and most respondents further declared themselves unaffiliated with a synagogue.

The findings touched off nationwide efforts to reinvigorate Judaism's faithful, such as Synagogue 3000. It also played to the strong suit of the Lubavitch Chabad, the Orthodox group whose outreach has included supplying kosher Passover meals to stranded Jewish backpackers in the Himalayas. On pleasant days, its Illinois chapter headquarters on Howard Street sends forth recreational vehicles to do good works around Chicago.

New ways are needed to remind Jews that they have a good thing going, said Rabbi Daniel Moscowitz of Lubavitch Chabad. "That's why the kinds of things that we do to reach out to people come from another angle," he said.

Parrots and Sabbath

Lipton agreed. A sometime songwriter as well as Jewish drum circle leader at Mitziut and elsewhere, he set "Shabbosville" to the tune of Jimmy Buffett's "Margaritaville," comparing relaxation on the Sabbath to "a Caribbean vacation with a lot of parrots and margaritas around."

The song would never pop up in an actual Sabbath service, he said. But, "I would argue for it in context," Lipton said.

While drums are banned at his synagogue, Beth Emet, he has led drum circles at Mitziut that included as many as two dozen people. "All of a sudden, it all just clicks, and it all complements each other," Lipton said.

That was exactly what Rabbi Menachem Cohen had in mind when he founded Mitziut in 2003. He was reacting, he said, to the way traditional Jewish services seemed chilly to some and to a streak of "megamall" commercialism in America that left the fruit of spiritualism withering on the vine.

"We wanted to find meaning and significance in what we're doing," Cohen said. "We wanted to foster that feeling that we were a close-knit group that did more than just come together and pray periodically. We weren't finding it elsewhere."

What becomes of Mitziut and other chavurot as Judaism adapts to modern American life is anyone's guess. Even Cohen wonders how they will be seen in 20 years.

In the meantime, the option has provided connections lacking elsewhere, those who have flocked to it said.

"It feels positive," said Stein, now chair of Mitziut's leadership group. "It's the gift of giving this to people who are largely unaffiliated with other synagogues or movements. You see the light bulb go off in their eye.

"You see them feel comfortable when some of these other places don't make them feel comfortable at all," she said. "Somewhere along the way, something got lost."


Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Rabbi: Teen defies odds


Daniel Wultz, the Weston teen critically injured in a Tel Aviv suicide attack, is improving but has a long, long way to go, his rabbi said Friday.

A rabbi who prayed at the bedside of a Weston teen injured in a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv came back with a message for South Florida residents: Your prayers have been working.

Rabbi Yisroel Spalter of Weston's Chabad Lubavitch synagogue was administering a prayer ritual Monday when Daniel Wultz opened his eyes for the first time since the April 17 attack that killed nine and injured 50.

Doctors initially gave the youth a slim shot at survival, but the 16-year-old has defied expectations.

''We have seen this child as a miracle child,'' Spalter said at a news conference Friday at the synagogue.

Spalter, who returned from Tel Aviv on Thursday, urged everyone to keep Daniel in their prayers and do kind deeds in his name. Members of Spalter's synagogue have been conducting twice-daily prayer services and now wear blue bracelets imprinted with ``Pray for Daniel.''

Daniel, a sophomore at the David Posnack Day School in Plantation, regained consciousness Tuesday, but doctors have put him back under sedation.

The teen lost his right leg below the knee and underwent surgery last week at Ichilov Hospital to remove a kidney and his spleen. Spalter said the teen's condition remains ``very, very critical.''

Daniel appears to understand questions but cannot yet speak. Spalter said the teen mouthed his sister's name but is otherwise communicating with family by blinking his eyes.

No one has told him about the bombing, but ''he's aware he's in a situation that's very bad,'' Spalter said.

The Hamas-backed Islamic Jihad has claimed responsibility for the attack.

The Tel Aviv restaurant, Mayor's Felafel, was the only one serving kosher food that was open for Passover in that section of the city that day, which may have made it a target for terrorists.

On Monday, Spalter was placing tefillah -- leather boxes containing parchment scraps printed with verses from the Torah -- on Daniel's body when the teen opened his eyes for the first time.

Daniel's parents, Sheryl and Tuly Wultz, were jubilant.

''There was overwhelming joy among those present,'' Spalter said. ``The electricity was in the air.''

Still, Daniel's progress over the next few weeks will be crucial, and Spalter said he will be in the hospital for at least the next six months.

''I believe Daniel will pull through with the help of all of us,'' Spalter said.

The rabbi is considering another trip to Israel but has made no firm plans. For now, he said, both he and the Wultzes are urging people to continue their prayers.

''The family is confident and certain that the prayers of millions around the world are helping their son, Daniel,'' he said.

Rabbinical conference is May 12-14 in Salt Lake

Salt Lake City will host the Chabad Western Rabbinical Conference May 12-14 at Bais Menachem, 1760 S. 1100 East, in Salt Lake City.
"The late Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson considered his over 3,000 Shluchim (emissaries) and their families around the world his children. As such, he often instructed that, in addition to the once-a-year Chabad Lubavitch International Shluchim Conference held in Brooklyn every November, the rabbis get together at least once a year on a regional basis," said Rabbi Benny Zippel, executive director of Chabad Lubavitch of Utah since its inception in 1992.
This year the rabbinical conference will be hosted by Chabad Lubavitch of Utah, in honor of Rabbi Zippel's 40th birthday celebration.
Chabad rabbis from all over the Midwest and the Western area, from Alaska and Washington to Tennessee, are expected to attend the conference. For more information call 467-7777.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Rabbi feels like pioneer in northwest metro area

By Jean Torkelson, Rocky Mountain News

April 13, 2006

Rabbi Benjy Brackman admits it - sometimes he gets lonely in the northwest metro area.

But not Wednesday night.

At sundown, Brackman welcomed about 80 people to a traditional Passover seder at Front Range Community College, 3645 W. 112th Ave., in Westminster.

Passover, which celebrates the deliverance of the Jews from slavery 3,000 years ago, began Wednesday and lasts for eight days. It's a quintessential family-style holiday, drawing relatives and friends around the seder table to recount the beginnings of Jewish history.

But for Jews living in the northwest metro area, "family" tends to be a rather far-flung concept.

For one thing, "I'm the only rabbi living out here," said Brackman, a native of London who came to Westminster via Brooklyn, N.Y., where he met his wife, Leah.

Since moving here about three years ago, the couple have been bringing Judaism to a part of of the Denver metro area that has relatively few Jews. Brackman says there are perhaps 1,000 to 2,000 Jewish families in the northwest metro area, excluding Boulder. All told, there are about 70,000 Jews in Colorado.

In Westminster and thereabouts, "the Jews I do bump into think they're the only Jews out here," Brackman said. "When I say I believe there are (many others) living out here, they can't believe it.

"It's a real challenge because people (here) aren't quite so interested in Judaism as Jews (are) down south," Brackman added, referring to southeast Denver, where many of the metro area's synagogues are clustered.

"So we've got to try to think out of the box and do activities that attract people and bring them out into Judaism," he said.

The Brackmans belong to the Orthodox Hasidic Judaism, which offers an international education outreach called Chabad House. There are now 15 Chabad centers in Colorado, in which Jews are welcome to come to learn more about their heritage.

"Our mission is to reach out to other Jews, especially unaffiliated Jews - not necessarily to make them into Chabad Hasidic Jews, but to teach them the principle of 'love thy fellow Jew' and give them the opportunity to experience Judaism for themselves," Brackman said.

To encourage a potentially cautious crowd to participate, the Brackmans emphasize a relaxed atmosphere.

For example, Saturday morning Sabbath services stretch over three hours, with no commitment to come or go at a certain time. The services are held in the couple's home, a two-acre former horse ranch where they live upstairs and hold services in the walkout basement.

"And if they want to come just for the buffet lunch, they're welcome," he said.

Tonight, the Brackmans will offer the traditional "second night" Passover seder at Chabad House, 4505 W. 112th Ave. (For more information, see .)

Though the Brackmans may qualify as pioneers of a sort, they hardly feel they're in the backwoods when it comes to practicing Judaism. He said most kosher foods can be found in local grocery stores, and the family makes regular trips to southeast Denver, where they can stock up at the East Side Kosher Deli after they drop off their five kids for school at Hillel Academy.

Still, Brackman concedes there are moments when he knows he's not in Brooklyn anymore.

"One day my wife took our kids shopping on Easter Sunday," Brackman said. "As she was walking into the store, with our children who look recognizably Jewish, wearing their yarmulkes, somebody yelled out, 'Thank God somebody else isn't celebrating Easter.' "

Copyright 2006, Rocky Mountain News. All Rights Reserved.

Matzah Girl

Toronto Heschel School kindergartner Amanda Kauffman makes holes in rolled-out dough to prevent bubbles from forming during the matzah-baking process. She and her fellow Heschel students in senior and junior kindergarten visited the Chabad Lubavitch Model Matzah Factory earlier this month.

In strife-torn Nepal, 1,500 Israelis celebrate huge passover meal

Thu Apr 13, 10:59 AM ET

Violent protests on top of a bloody, decade-long Maoist insurgency have seen the number of visitors to Nepal reduced to a trickle, but hundreds of Israelis have descended on the capital to celebrate a huge passover gathering.

On Wednesday night, some 1,500 people, many wearing Nepali-made yamulkes (skullcaps), convened in a hotel to celebrate the festival with a traditional meal, a four-piece Israeli band and officiating rabbis.

The hotel kitchens had to be blow-torched clean to ensure they were kosher, and rabbis had to slaughter the chickens themselves. But with a volunteer workforce of backpackers, they managed to get everything in place for the "seder", a meal and religious ceremony that celebrates the flight of the 12 tribes of Israel from slavery in Egypt 3,000 years ago.

The massive celebration came about because of a combination of a lack of Jews in Nepal, and international diplomacy, Dan Stav, Israel's ambassador to Nepal told AFP.

Traditionally, passover is celebrated with only close family, but around 20 years ago, the embassy here started inviting whichever Israeli tourists were in Kathmandu to the embassy to share in a meal.

The numbers grew, and seven years ago, the celebration began to be organised by Beit Chabad, an orthodox Jewish group and spiritual outreach service.

"When you go to other destinations whether it be Latin America or Europe or North America you have quite big Jewish communities, whereas here you have none," the ambassador told AFP.

"In the past, it was easy to come to Nepal rather than India or China or other places because of diplomatic relations. Full diplomatic relations with India and China were only established in 1992," said Stav.

Now the meal has become an integral part of the travel plans for hundreds of backpackers.

"You ask people in Israel about Nepal and they tell you 'there's this great seder. Its the biggest in the world. It's a once in a lifetime thing'," said 22 year-old Or Alon, who had volunteered to help with seder preparations.

"As soon as I decided to travel, I knew that I would do seder in Nepal," said Alon who recently completed two years national service in the Israeli army.

Most of the people at the celebration Wednesday were in their 20s and travelling after serving their time in the armed forces.

Embassies, including that of Israel, have been issuing increasingly strong travel warnings about coming to Nepal because of the ongoing political crisis. In the last five days four people have been killed by security forces during nationwide anti-royal protests and a Maoist insurgency has killed over 12,500 people in the last 10 years. But this does not worry Alon.

"Nobody here wants to hurt me. Not the Maoists, not the government. I am neutral. Its the only place I have been where I feel neutral," Alon said as he crumbled cooked eggs into a vast vat to make salad.

Stav, the ambassador, was more cautious and said that embassy warnings should be heeded.

"Tourists are not targets for any of the people here, and we emphasize this fact. However, we say that there is a growing danger that you may find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time," he said.

Samuel Maron, the owner of a large travel company in Israel, is more cautious than Alon about the situation in Nepal, but it still didn't stop him coming.

Middle-aged Maron stood out from the hundreds of dreadlocked and tattooed young Israelis at the seder, but was having a great time despite being older than the fathers of most of the people there.

"We planned this six months ago. We heard about it from our sons who were here 10 years ago. We love to see our youth spending one evening together because they are scattered all over the far east," Maron said.

For the ambassador, the appeal of celebrating passover in Nepal was clear.

"It has long roots, Nepal is a very exotic country, and to have passover in a country you can see the Himalaya from is something special," he said.

Chabad fosters traditional Seders

Beth Cochran
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 12, 2006 12:00 AM Linda Jacobs' fondest childhood memory of Passover is the large Seders with family and friends in Washington state, her father leading the evening prayers and her grandfather hiding the Afikoman, a piece of matzo eaten at the end of the meal, for the children to find.

Jacobs, 48, now has a family of her own. For the past decade, the Litchfield Park resident has made a habit of flying back to her hometown or going to a friend's house to celebrate Passover. Today, when the Jewish holiday begins at sundown, the Jacobses will attend a traditional Seder hosted by Chabad of the West Valley.

"We always had a huge Seder when I was growing up," Jacobs said. "There was five of us, and we always had between 30 and 40 people over at our house for Seder. So we always helped prepare for the dinner."

Passover's central culinary staple is the matzo, or unleavened bread, which symbolizes the Israelites' liberation from the pharaoh. When the Jews followed Moses out of Egypt, they were in such a hurry that they couldn't wait for their bread to rise. The flat cracker was also the main food the Jews ate when they served as slaves of the Egyptians.

"One would think that when you're freed, you'd have time for bread to leaven. But when the time came, they said, 'Let's make matzo and get out of here,' " said Rabbi Shelly Moss of Temple Beth Shalom in Sun City. "It's interesting that it was the bread of affliction but also the bread of haste."

As a remembrance, observant Jews refrain from eating leavened bread for eight days during Passover. The word is a reference to God sparing the lives of Jewish firstborns, literally passing over the houses of the Jews when he slaughtered the firstborns of Egypt.

Chabad of the West Valley has been hosting community Seders since opening in Glendale about five years ago, said Chana Lew, program director and director of the Hebrew school.

"Every year, different people have come by and joined the Seders, and some people have gone on to have them in their own homes," Lew said.

For the remainder of Passover, Jacobs will put aside leavened foods, such as bread, cookies, cereal or pretzels, and prepare special school lunches for her daughters, Micaela, 14, and Moriah, 12.

"I remember my mom would make big trays of chicken legs," Jacobs recalled, "so our lunches would consist of chicken legs, a hard-boiled egg, matzo with peanut butter and some fruit."

Psalms book spares rabbi

In Tel Aviv attack, pocket Scriptures
next to heart ripped apart by shrapnel
Posted: April 17, 2006
5:00 p.m. Eastern

© 2006

Amid the aftermath of the Palestinian suicide attack today that killed nine comes news of a miracle as a rabbi's life reportedly was spared when a book of Psalms held in a pocket next to his heart was ripped in two by a piece of shrapnel.

Chabad Rabbi Avishai Batshvilli and his wife were among the people at a crowded fast food stand near Tel Aviv's old central bus station when a suicide bomber blew himself up as Israelis celebrated the fifth day of the Passover holiday. Along with the dead, more than 60 were wounded, at least 10 of them seriously. The same restaurant was hit by a suicide attack in January, wounding 20.

The rabbi's son-in-law – himself a prominent Torah scholar – told the Israeli news site his father-in-law was saved by a "big miracle."

"He had a small book of Psalms in his shirt pocket next to his heart. One of the (pieces of) shrapnel penetrated his jacket and hit the book of Psalms tearing it in two," said Rabbi Avraham Alashvilli.

"I am now holding this book of Psalms, it's unbelievable, this fragment could have entered his body, Heaven forbid. Indeed a very big miracle occurred."

Scene of Tel Aviv attack today (Courtesy

Batshvilli and his wife, who reside in Nachlas Har Chabad in Kiryat Malachi, have been hospitalized with moderate injuries.

Alashvilli, at his father-in-law's bedside all day, said his condition has improved, although there was shrapnel all over his body.

Alashvilli told the family will continue to be at his bedside until after the Passover holiday, and they are confident that with God's help he will make it out of the hospital.

Dorm life returns to Bais Chana


WORCESTER— Worcester Academy may be the best-known boarding school in the city, but there is another local school that draws students from far away and which reopened its dorm this year: Bais Chana, a tiny Jewish school on Midland Avenue for girls in Grades 7-12.

The school is part of Yeshiva Academy, which accepts students from all strands of Judaism, but the girls at Bais Chana live by the Chabad-Lubavitch tradition: They keep their knees, elbows and collarbones covered, they don’t sing and dance in front of the opposite sex (a restriction specific to females), and many of them voluntarily surround themselves with Jewish culture, from the music in their iPods to the early-morning spiritual studies they organize themselves.

Their lifestyle, which might seem extreme, if not sexist, to outsiders, is remarkable in and of itself. But equally notable is the girls’ commitment to it. They know there’s a cultural gulf between themselves and other teenage girls, and they don’t look down on others; they’re just not eager to live like them.

Sarah R. Sherman, 15, of Philadelphia, explained it this way: “We don’t feel like it’s an extra burden that we can’t wear certain things. It’s just part of who we are,” she said. She’s happy she doesn’t look like some of the people she sees at the mall and elsewhere, but at the same time, she added, “You don’t degrade anybody just for the way they are.”

The girls aren’t cookie-cutter copies of one another. Their personality comes through in small ways, like their socks, which are sometimes colorfully striped and paired with shoes of a contrasting color, or their earrings, which range from the unnoticeable to a fashionable chandelier style.

Small opportunities like those helped sell Sarah’s roommate, Chaya Brocha Morozow, 15, of Brooklyn, on coming to Worcester. “You wear your uniform, but you get to put your personality into it,” she said. She used to go to a school with more than 500 students in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, home to Lubavitch headquarters. She was surrounded by people who live as her family does, but she wasn’t happy at the school, which she described as a “factory.” Her mother, Elke (Morozow) Nathan, had heard of Bais Chana when she herself was in high school and thought an out-of-town environment might be good for her “on-the-go, jolly kind of girl.”

It seems to have worked. Chaya Brocha has settled into the dorm, with its mezuzahs on the doorways and its seven close-knit inhabitants. “The school doesn’t have any cliques… Everyone’s friends with everyone,” she said.

One of her friends in the dorm is Lifshy Shuchat, 15, a shy girl with a beautiful singing voice who used to go to the same school Chaya Brocha did in Brooklyn. Lifshy will play Baron Rothschild in Bais Chana’s production of “Little Orphan Chanie”, which is its take on Broadway’s “Annie.” The musical is usually a Broadway show rewritten to make it Jewish, so Annie became Chanie, and Daddy Warbucks was replaced with Baron Rothschild. (To get a flavor of their sense of humor, consider that past shows have included a Jewish version of “Grease” in which the song “Beauty School Dropout” became “Hebrew School Dropout.”)

It’s all part of a world that for many of the girls is 24-7 Jewish. For day students, it varies more by family and individual, with some girls listening to pop music and watching TV and others not. But school days are long. They include both secular academics and religious studies and last from 8:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Other activities include gymnastics (in an all-female setting), the Big and Little Sisters Program with the younger students, a student-organized program for spiritual growth, and visits to a local old-age home. On weekends, there are shabbatons, or retreats, focused around the Sabbath.

Sarah and many of the other girls fit easily into activities such as leading younger children through the Yeshiva’s annual matzo factory, where they teach children how to knead and roll out matzo quickly so the dough doesn’t rise. Some of the Yeshiva’s first- through third-graders responded to Sarah and Chaya Brocha like favorite camp counselors, with Chaya Brocha’s group chanting her name.

The girls’ success in such programs is by design. “When they’re going to grow up, they’re going to have to organize different evenings and things,” explained Principal Chani Fogelman. “They’ll feel confident to stand in front of a crowd, to take leadership.”

Sarah hopes to run programs at a Chabad house someday, and it was a Chabad network that first brought the school to her father’s attention.

“It’s not that rules are imposed upon them, but it’s a lifestyle and a value system that they nurture within each student,” her father, Rabbi Shraga Sherman, said of the school. “It’s kind of part of a family team.”

Mrs. Fogelman accepts very few of the girls who apply, and the student body includes people from as far away as Winnipeg, Manitoba. “I only take girls with high academics, and I do a lot of research” into the girls’ character, behavior and academics, she said. She prefers that the school grow slowly, and it has been tiny at times. Last year, it had just ninth- and 10th-graders and fewer than 10 girls in the entire school, said Rochie Shaw, 15, of Worcester, who has gone to the Yeshiva since preschool. This year, however, the seventh- and eighth-grade girls moved from the Yeshiva into the Bais Chana building, the dorm reopened, and enrollment rose to 20 in Grades 7-11.

“This year’s one of the best years so far,” said Chaya Liberow, 13, of Worcester, who has also gone to the school since preschool.

One thing the girls don’t worry about in their busy lives is time for a boyfriend, because they won’t date until they’re ready to marry. “I don’t think it’s good to go out when you’re 14,” Rochie said.

“It’s like a waste of time. There’s no purpose,” added Chaya Liberow.

Exactly how a girl will meet her mate varies by family. Some go to a matchmaker, while others find their own. The timing also varies depending on what path a girl takes when she graduates from high school. Some might marry, while others will go to a Jewish women’s college in Israel or Australia first.

The girls are taught that they can be anything — doctor, president — but their first duty will always be to their family, Mrs. Fogelman said. That family may well turn out to be large: Mrs. Nathan, for instance, describes her seven children as “only a small family,” and many of the girls at Bais Chana have four or more siblings.

Whatever her choices after high school, Sarah said Bais Chana is good preparation. “I think it gives me a good background for life when I’m older,” she said. “Maybe some people might think we are forced to do a lot of things that we don’t want to… (But) we live normal lives.”

Contact Jacqueline Reis by e-mail at

Ukrainian Jews have seder choices,

By Vladimir Matveyev
KHARKOV, Ukraine, April 18 (JTA) — Jews in the Ukrainian city of Kharkov had a smorgasbord of seder choices this Passover.

Feeling more comfortable with the Orthodox tradition? Local chapters of Chabad and the Orthodox Union offered holiday meals and ceremonies to help local Jews relive the enslavement and Exodus from Egypt.

At home with a liberal reading of the holiday? Choose one of the seders organized by the Reform community.

Want a social mixer and a traditional meal with a younger crowd? Hillel has something to offer for the occasion.

One thing all these seders had in common is that all were led or co-led by foreign guests, usually rabbinical students from the United States and Israel, who passed on spending the holiday with their families to help make Passover more meaningful for Ukrainian Jews.

In recent years, foreign students leading seders have become a tradition in every corner of the vast former Soviet Union.

But in Ukrainian Jewish communities served by rabbis of their own — which also benefit from a network of communal institutions — some Jews are beginning to think they’ve outgrown the need for such visits.

Foreign students came to Ukraine to help locals “be a part of a Jewish extended family and to support them,” said Sara Sapadin, a U.S. rabbinical student at the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College Jerusalem campus.

To some of the foreign students, the visits carry extra meaning since their own ancestors hail from those lands.

One of the American students, Emily Dunn from HUC, took the opportunity to visit with a relative, Esfira Rabinovich, 87, who still lives in the small town of Talnoe, Ukraine.

This spring, the Reform movement sent 53 students, cantors and educators to lead seders in communities across Ukraine.

Other organizations also sent sizeable groups: Chabad sent 96 rabbinical students from Israel, the Orthodox Union sent 11 students and Hillel sent nine Americans.

Some of those attending seders this spring said they weren’t happy with Passover ceremonies led by foreigners. Some mentioned the difficulties of following the English-Russian translations. Others suggested that the money spent to bring foreign guests might have been better spent on local groups.

“We spend much time interpreting back and forth, and before the students come to visit, they should get more advice from the local people as to what our community really needs today,” said a Kharkov Jewish leader who asked not to be identified for this article.

“We have learned a lot ourselves in recent years,” he added. “And it looks like these students need such visits more than us.”

But not all in the community agree.

“Hillel students who come today to Ukraine do not come to teach us how to lead seders anymore,” said Yulia Pototskaya, director of the Kharkov Hillel group. “They know we can do it ourselves. But they come to conduct seders with us as partners.”

Aleksandr Gaidar, executive director of the Association of Reform Jewish Congregations in Ukraine, said, “Of course we can lead seders without Americans in our congregations, but when we are together, our seders have a deeper meaning.”

One Jewish leader said he believes the presence of foreign rabbinical students is not a sign of disrespect for local communities. On the contrary, said Rabbi Shlomo Asraf, the O.U. leader in Kharkov, these students, many of whom are more knowledgeable about tradition than locals, can teach Ukrainian Jews how to “better experience the seder and Judaism.”

But many local Jewish leaders feel that foreign groups should focus on smaller communities that don’t have rabbis.

“Such visits help us forge better ties with foreign communities and show them what we can do,” said Rabbi Misha Kapustin, leader of the Kharkov Reform congregation. “But I don’t see much sense in sending nine students to lead seders in Kharkov Hillel, where local students” can run the seders.

A Time for Healing at Passover Seder

By Natasha Rotstein
Special to The Moscow Times

Elaborately decorated tables greeted the guests arriving for Passover Seder at Moscow's Chabad Synagogue last week. Parishioners attending the ritual family dinner on the first evening of Passover warmly embraced friends before settling into their seats.

Standing among the clusters of smiling people, it was difficult to imagine that this was the synagogue where in January a man armed with a hunting knife had walked in and stabbed nine people before being wrestled to the floor and held until police arrived.

Jewish center teaches heritage

Facility provides a sense of culture
By Michelle Fitzhugh-Craig, STAFF WRITER
Inside Bay Area
About a month ago, Mark Hoffman says he felt the need to explore his Jewish roots.

The Pleasanton resident decided to contact the Chabad of the Tri-Valley, a center for Jewish life and education in the area, to see what was available and soon began private instruction through its Jewish Learning Center.

"It has been beneficial and enjoyable," says Hoffman, 40. "It's more like learning through a philosophical discussion."

The Jewish Learning Center began informally last fall with the help of Rabbi Raleigh Resnick and his wife, Fruma. Based in the couple's home, until they locate a facility, it's dedicated to providing a complete and thorough Jewish education to the Valley community. No prior background or knowledge is required for most of the course offerings.

Fruma Resnick, who coordinates the courses, says she and the Rabbi were asked to move to the area by the local Jews and Rabbi Yakov Kagan, director of the Chabad of Contra Costa.

"People here wanted more, something for them and their children," says the New York native, adding the growth has been tremendous. "They all thought there was a need and they wanted us here."

Educational offerings

Currently the center offers a weekly Torah class where "students" discuss the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures, various topics and learn about the holidays and events in the Jewish faith; bar mitzvah lessons for boys age 13 and bat mitzvah lessons for girls age 12; and a six-week Hebrew language course for beginners.

One of the favorite offerings is the one-on-one study.

"There is a tremendous thirst and hunger for education," Fruma Resnick says. "Very few people know about their heritage." She adds there are more and more people from her faith moving here and there are no centers specifically for Jewish studies, especially for adults.

A dynamic force

Although the center is geared toward those who are Jewish, Fruma Resnick says they will accept local non-Jewish residents who are serious about learning Judaism.

Chabad of the Tri-Valley is a part of Chabad-Lubavitch International, a philosophy, movement and organization considered by many to be the most dynamic force in Jewish life today. It focuses on providing youth programs and community service to and for the Valley's estimated 10,000 Jewish people. For more information, visit

"Whatever we can do to help the Jewish community and anybody in need," Fruma Resnick says.

She says the Valley center is also proud of its focus on children, which includes a mommy-and-me playtime; its Good Deeds club, which assists those in need; its teen club; and monthly women's circle. Fruma Resnick says she tries to make these programs as interactive as possible.

Resnicks get credit

Hoffman, who said he was not active with the local Chabad while living in San Francisco, has found the Tri-Valley Chabad to be one he enjoys. He credits this primarily to the Resnicks. He believes they can help him in raising his own children.

"I want to be more of a role model for my kids," Hoffman say. "To give them a richer, Jewish experience."

Michelle Fitzhugh-Craig can be reached at (925) 416-4817 or at

``Judaism'' Meets ``Southern Hospitality'' as Hundreds Of Jewish Bikers Converge in Tennessee in Honor of (Yom Hashoa) World Recognition Day of the Ho

Tuesday April 25, 12:21 pm ET
--(BUSINESS WIRE)----King David Bikers:

King David Bikers Depart South Florida for 800 Mile Journey on Sunday, April 30th

What: Sunday, April 30th, King David Bikers, the nation's largest
Jewish motorcycle riding organization, will have an official launch
ceremony for their 800 mile ride to Whitwell, Tennessee, to meet
hundreds of other Jewish bikers who are congregating in this small
southern town of only 1600, where there is not a single Jewish person,
in recognition of the holocaust, to honor the school and students of
Whitwell for creating a memorial for the six million Jews who were
exterminated. The work done by the Whitwell School was turned into a
movie, "Paper Clips," that airs regularly on HBO.

Who: King David Bikers (KDB) ( will
meet more than three hundred Jewish bikers from the Jewish Motorcycle
Alliance, ( an umbrella organization of
more than 10 Jewish Motorcycle Clubs in the United States, Canada and
Australia, along with hundreds of "independent" Jewish riders. During
this "international ride" Jewish bikers from 14 states, the District
of Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Montreal in Canada, and Melbourne,
Australia will be converging in Tennessee.

Speakers: Florida State Senator Ron Klein and Assi Haim, the Director
of Economic Affairs of the General Consul/Israel will provide remarks,
along with Jeff Mustard, Founder and President of King David Bikers
and Rabbi Moishe Denburg, the Rabbi of the Chabad/Boca Raton.

Departure Ceremony/Time: The bikers, the public and the congregation
will gather commencing at 8:30 AM for breakfast through to 9:30 AM.
Speakers from 9:30 - 9:45, bikers depart at 10:00 AM.

Departure Location: Chabad Boca Raton: 17950 Military Trail, Boca
Raton, Florida 33496 - (561) 241-6257; Chabad is located on N/E/C of
Military Trail and Clintmoore Road, in Bank of America strip center at
the rear. It is a multi-million dollar 24,000 square foot synagogue.
Contact: Rabbi Moishe Denburg: 561-414-9995.

Why: The Whitwell School initiated the Paper Clip Project in 1998 to
study The Holocaust and to honor its victims. In an era of increasing
anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, we are recognizing the school for
its remarkable social consciousness, a rural southern community with a
population of 1600 and most interestingly, a non-existent Jewish

King David Bikers, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Jeff Mustard, 954-801-8263 (Cell)

Source: King David Bikers

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Meet the Stuckmans: Gefilte Fish Out of Water

The Stuckman seder is the last supper you'd want to be invited to.

If you thought the Da Vinci code was a puzzler, da Stuckmans' is no better, as this inscrutable screwball family tries to decipher the holiday's meaning while its Passover passes off as a scene from "Sex and the Seder."

"When Do We Eat?" is just one of four questions asked by filmmaker Salvador Litvak, director/producer and, with his wife, Nina Davidovich, co-writer of this gefilte fish out of water comedy in which Elijah - if he dared show up at the Stuckmans' home at all - would have the seat yanked out from under him just as he was about to sit down.

Just when you thought you were out of the matzah business, they keep dragging you back in: The film opens in the area post-holiday - Friday, April 21.

A plague upon their house?

How about tsuris run rampant! The Stuckmans are stuck in a series of embarrassing escapades that derail "the world's faster Passover seder" of any significance. Why is this night deteriorating more than any other? It involves - in what may be filmdom's less than finest moment - a Chasid seduction scene; a son with autism; incest among the incense; a one-eyed Moshe Dayan look-a-like who only has eyes for the Mrs. of this misguided household; a Holocaust survivor who's the family's godfather of gefilte fish; and a daughter whose profession as a sexual surrogate is as climactic a plot point as they come.

Pharaoh's revenge? Take a seat at this table and watch the matzah crumble. But will all this sit well with audiences?

Well, they'll either love it or hate it, says the director - much like a mythical Bubbie's cement-stapled matzah balls. "Some audiences say it's too religious, others say it's sacrilegious. How can one movie be both?"

'Lighten Up, People!'
Okay, Litvak, you've used up one of your four questions. And there is much to answer for. The only thing missing is a soundtrack featuring "Matzah, Matzah Man," by the Village People as they convert en masse.

"This is unblinking about addressing religion," states this Harvard grad of the hasty pudding of a mess that is the Stuckmans. "This is about a Jewish family at a Jewish holiday behaving badly."

So, it finally happened; the Fiddler fell off his roof - and landed smack in the cleavage of the sexy Stuckman cousin in lust with the Lubavitch of the family.

For those who tsk-tsk Litvak's intentions, wagging their finger at him, he tsks-tsks right back using a different finger: "Of course they're behaving badly - it's a comedy! Lighten up, people!"

Just not in a Chanukah sense. As for the Chasid-chasing hussy - that interpretation comes from reading the script right to left; he actually pursues her - it's all about when bad things happen to good Orthodox.

"We don't play it as a good thing," states the director of the Chasid-gone-crazy. "We show that by his evil act, he has gone to a holy place, through facing his shame."

Shame that the father figure is more ramrod than Ramses. Take that stick and shove it? "It tickled us to have this tyrannical dad" portrayed as such a philistine. Sure, his beautiful home is ornamental to his life - that's what he manufactures, Christmas ornaments - but he's been St. Nicked to an inch of his life from enjoying what he has.

Pass the hard-boiled egg and egg him on with hallucinogens? Man, oh, man - that's not Manischewitz he's been drinking! More like a spiked concoction to wreak havoc with his spatial perceptions. Look, Ma, Dad's going da-da-yahoo drugged out on Ecstasy.

This is not a family you'd want to be stuck in the desert with - Las Vegas or the Sinai - for 40 minutes, let alone 40 years. Like chopped carp, "Where Do We Eat?" may beg the question: Is it tasteless?

But, for some, it may provide a post-Pesach perspective without need for carping. "Everything Jewish is about the community," according to the filmmaker. "We are a tribal people."

But the tribe has not so much spoken as spit out its intents here, and Litvak lays it on without the tefillin - albeit, still with a sense of history. The holiday, observed by the extended Stuckman family of 11 in an outdoor tent, is the tentpole for these jaded Jews to extrapolate themselves from a jejune existence.

"They're all flawed, and by the end of the night, they redeem themselves," says Litvak.

And so has the director, who found his own film career on fade out mode just as he was fading into it. After stumbling up against roadblocks - it seemed that every movie he wanted to make was thought up first by someone called Spielberg - he's finally won the duel.

"I beat him to this!" Litvak declares with a laugh, savoring a tongue-in-cheek victory.

And if his "E.T." calls home more as an "Extra on the Tsimmes," as with any good Jewish meal, the natural question to ask is … what more can be stuffed into the plot before Grandpop has to unbuckle his Borscht Belt?

Well, there's also a gay and not-so carefree aspect to "When Do We Eat?": Charoses of the lovers afflicts another couple in this movie - an interracial gay twosome whose mutual fund of interest ultimately leads to a gospel geshrei near film's end that gives double meaning to "Let my people go!"

If it all doesn't go with the flow, maybe it's because Litvak has learned that stepping into the sands of time requires going against the grain.

"I grew up feeling the outsider," says the child of Chilean parents who arrived in New York with their son when he was 5.

Years later, this self-described "Jewtino" juiced his film-school application/treatment with elements of what it was like to chill out as a Jewish Chilean-American, landing the Latino a coveted spot at UCLA film school after he'd already graduated from New York University Law School.

The only thing missing from his résumé is med school.

"Well," he admits sheepishly, "that's what I was studying originally."

But Litvak wanted to be true to himself, and not to some Hippocratic oaf he knew he could become. "My parents are still getting over it," he chuckles of his not taking the prescribed medical path.

That prescription pad gave way to finding a home in Hollywood. But, then, isn't that what "When Do We Eat?" is all about? "It's about the pharaoh within us all, about how we are enslaved today - and how to liberate that inner pharaoh."

Fair enough. As for what follows a Passover comedy? A drama on Shemini Atzeret?

No, he replies, "my next is a spiritual comedy with religious underpinnings, although not overtly Jewish."

And then there's the documentary he's currently working on about the battle between intelligent design and evolution.

Okay, interview over. When do we eat?

How about now? Pass the popcorn, Salvador - it's okay, the holiday's over.

But for Litvak, it may just be beginning.

• • •

Elijah may not have shown up for Gwyneth Paltrow's seder - not that she had one - but Moses sure did.

The actress and her rocker husband Chris Martin gave birth to a son, Moses, delivering just as the reel Moses delivered the Ten Commandments on ABC's new mini-series.

The kid must be thanking God for one small favor.

He didn't come earlier, say, at Purim: "Here, little Haman, have a hamantashen."

Why not? The Apple's already been taken.

Pessah in Cuba: A tale of two synagogues

While the tale of the Jews' exodus from Egypt symbolizes liberation for Jews all over the world, it is also symbolic for the resilient Jewish community of Cuba.

This tiny community of 1,200 Jews, of which 900 live in Havana, are but a fraction of one percent of the island's 11 million people. Judaism is seen as an oddity of sorts, even in this peculiar country where Catholicism, Santeria, and Marxism converge.

"There is no anti-Semitism here, just ignorance," according to Alberto Fernandez Barrocas, 59, vice president of the Adath Israel Synagogue of Old Havana. "People assume that Jews don't believe in anything since they don't believe in Jesus."

Amid the crumbling Spanish colonial structures and dank Caribbean air, Synagoga Adath Israel had a Seder last Wednesday night, courtesy of Chabad Lubavitch. The Ashkenazi synagogue was founded in 1925 and hosted approximately 50 people at its Seder, which was orchestrated by two Chabad delegates who randomly selected people to read the Spanish translation aloud.

Much to the chagrin of Brazilian-born Lubavitcher Simcha Zajac, 22, there were two things missing from the Seder plate. The maror (Chrain), or horseradish, and the korban pesach, a shank of lamb, which Zajac had stowed away in his luggage, were confiscated by customs officials at Havana airport. Zajac described the strange encounter, "They took it and I couldn't do anything since I don't have a religious visa," he lamented. "I should have at least hid a little bit of chrain in a separate place. This is my first Pessah without maror."

Fortunately, there was plenty of matza delivered from various Jewish organizations in Canada. Meat, however, was another story. Since he took power in 1959, Cuban President Fidel Castro has allowed a kosher butcher to operate in Havana, but under the same ration system imposed on all Cubans. Thus, every citizen receives a "Libreta," or ration card, which entitles him/her to exactly two pounds of meat per month. Since the quantities are fixed and so small, the kosher butcher opens once a week to distribute rations for his private clientele. Even Chabad was unable to bypass Fidel's ration system to procure extra meat, so the main course was gefilte fish flown in from Panama.

Across town in the leafy Havana suburb of Vedado another synagogue had a Seder of a little different flavor. The conservative-style Synagoga Bet Shalom is nicknamed "El Patronato" because when it was founded in 1953, it was owned and operated by various owners or patrons. Mariano Mirelman, who studied Jewish education in his native Argentina, led the Seder here. He has been working with this community for two years and has seen interest in Judaism soar, particularly among the youth. The vast majority of the 75 people who attended this lively Seder were under the age of 18, and many presumably came unescorted. "It's safe to assume that 90 percent of these kids have only one Jewish parent and most do not have a Jewish mother," asserted Mirelman. Mirelman connects this burgeoning interest in Judaism to a greater tolerance towards religion in Cuban society, endorsed by a speech Castro delivered in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. "Before people were afraid to be open about their religion. In that speech Fidel basically said that it is okay to be religious and still be a good Communist," said Mirelman.

Jews came to Cuba in several immigration waves. First, in the early 1900's North American Jews came to pursue business interests on the island. Then, in the 1910's, Sephardic Turkish Jews came to Cuba after the Ottoman Empire's collapse. This was followed by a large contingent of Ashkenazi Jews fleeing persecution from Europe in the 1920's and unable to enter the United States immediately due to the Quota Laws. Most planned on staying in Cuba for only two years, but chose to remain to seize opportunities in the sugar and textile industries. The Jewish community in Cuba flourished and swelled to around 15,000 until Castro overthrew the capitalist regime of Fulgencio Batista to redistribute Cuban wealth and reshape Cuban society.

According to Adela Dworkin, now President of El Patronato, who was a law student at the time of the revolution, "Most of the Jews sympathized with the revolution until their businesses and properties were nationalized, and then 90 percent of them fled."

Between the early 1960s and the early 1990s, Cuban Jewry was on the verge of disappearing.

"During those years, we didn't even have a minyan for Kol Nidre," she declared. Unsure as to what kept the Jewish flame alive during those years, Dworkin seems ecstatic about what she sees today.

As a law student in 1959, she was instrumental in her family's decision to remain in Cuba to "see the revolution."

Now she plays a pivotal role in the Cuban Jewish revolution. "To me, liberation means a community of active, passionate kids who are proud to be Jewish," said Dworkin. She beamed with delight as the children of Havana recited the Four Questions with such ease that it was hard to believe they were almost forgotten.

Wounded teen's leg amputated

Weston boy was injured in Israel blast

By Marlene Naanes
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Posted April 22 2006

A Weston teenager who was severely wounded in a Tel Aviv suicide bombing earlier this week underwent surgery Friday to remove part of his leg, family friends said.

Daniel Wultz had two surgeries before Friday's operation and already lost a kidney and spleen since the attack Monday on a restaurant where he and his father were eating. Tuly Wultz is recovering from a broken leg in the same Tel Aviv hospital as Daniel.

Family friend Tammy Fayne related Tuly Wultz's feelings after learning his son's leg would be amputated: "It's just a leg. We still have Daniel."

Friends and neighbors could not bring themselves to press Daniel's parents for more details about his condition. The most people know is that the 16-year-old basketball player lost part of a leg from the knee down as an infection spread up the limb.

"Tuly was crying and I was crying," said Andrew Abraham, a friend of the family who prays at the same temple and who spoke to the teen's father Friday. "It's barbaric what this person did when all [Daniel] wanted was to eat at a restaurant."

Daniel, a high school sophomore, was passionate about basketball. He spent many hours at a Weston YMCA playing competitively.

Abraham and the Wultzes' temple, the Chabad Lubavitch of Weston, have ordered blue and white rubber wrist bands inscribed with the message "Pray for Daniel."

The temple also has set up a fund, the Daniel Wultz Gemilas Chessed Fund, to raise money for the family, said Rabbi Yisroel Spalter. Donations can be made on the synagogue's Web site,

Prof. Berger's latest... still waiting for the the world to rally for his cause

Who controls Lubavitch headquarters?

A recent court decision has awarded control of the headquarters of Lubavitch Hassidism in Brooklyn to the "non-messianist" Agudath Chasidei Chabad. This ruling, which has elicited considerable coverage in the Jewish media, highlights the tensions between reality and perception that cloud the understanding of this ongoing controversy.

The main synagogue at 770 Eastern Parkway has been controlled for some time by hassidim who believe not only that the late Rebbe is the Messiah but that he remains physically alive. Slogans proclaiming his Messiahship adorn the synagogue, including the cover of the ark containing the Torah scrolls; worshippers form an aisle through which he marches as services begin, and children point to him as he sits in his superficially empty chair.

Many, probably most, hassidim of this sort endorse the theology expressed in a 2003 article by an Israeli rabbi, who affirmed that "we Lubavitch hassidim believe that Lubavitch is Jerusalem, the House of our Rabbi in Babylonia (i.e., 770 Eastern Parkway) is the Temple, and the Rebbe is the ark of the covenant standing on the foundation stone in which (referring to the Rebbe/ark, not the foundation stone) God's Being and Essence rests."

(Hebrew readers can access this article by clicking on "Ekronot be-Olam ha-Hasidut" at .)

From the perspective of Jewish law, there can be no material difference between a church and a synagogue in which congregants worship the divine Essence manifested in an invisible human being whom they face during prayer.

THE LAWSUIT was triggered by a violent confrontation in which such congregants defaced a plaque placed on the exterior of the building by the moderates. The plaque's intolerable offense was that it referred to the presumably living Rebbe with an honorific abbreviation characterizing the righteous dead. In the course of the legal proceedings, the hassidim who control the synagogue argued that they represent the majority of the community and that the court has no authority to intervene in a theological dispute.

The judge agreed with the last assertion and took no position on the first; he maintained, however, that he has every authority to rule on a question of property law, and the building in question, he said, clearly belongs to Agudath Chasidei Chabad.

Journalists who have asked leaders of the victorious group what changes they intend to institute now that they presumably have the authority to do so have thus far been provided with assurances lacking in specificity. One of the difficulties these leaders face is that believers in the Rebbe's Messiahship indeed constitute a majority of the Crown Heights community, though the percentage who attribute to him continued physical life and/or divinity, while certainly substantial, is more difficult to assess.

Moreover, spokespersons for Agudath Chasidei Chabad itself explicitly affirm that there is a real possibility that the Rebbe will reveal himself as the Messiah, and their opponents' assertion that they themselves believe this firmly though covertly may well be correct.

THE REACTION in the Jewish community at large is distorted by profound misperceptions of the real status of messianist belief within Lubavitch. Casual observers, abetted by a conscious campaign of disinformation by the moderate establishment, imagine that the believers are a tiny, if noisy minority, and that they are in a state of precipitous decline.

They further imagine that the putative majority, including virtually all emissaries, reject the Rebbe's Messiahship decisively. In fact, the movement's major educational and communal institutions both in the main population centers and worldwide are either in the hands of overt believers or suffused by this belief, and large numbers of emissaries affirm it. Skeptical readers can find the evidence for this assessment in my book on Lubavitch messianism, preferably in the updated Hebrew version, or in the very brief summary article at
WHAT THEN does this court ruling mean for Judaism? From a narrow perspective, the victory of Agudath Chasidei Chabad may mean that the prayer service at Lubavitch headquarters will no longer be marked by overt messianism and Rebbe-worship, though this result is far from certain. From a larger perspective, however, this victory may strengthen the misimpression that Lubavitch hasidism is dominated by Orthodox Jews in the traditional sense.

Moreover, this misimpression, serious as it is, pales in the face of a still deeper problem. For reasons that I have tried to address in my book, even when Jews, including Orthodox Jews, are aware that a particular Lubavitch leader or emissary believes in the Messiahship of the Rebbe, they generally accept him as an authentic Orthodox authority. Such acceptance can remain intact even after they hear him attribute divine characteristics to his deceased Messiah. When they are told that a Lubavitch hassid believes only that the Rebbe may be the Messiah, they celebrate his moderation and adherence to mainstream Jewish tradition.

In sum, this generation has presided over a historic transformation of the Jewish religion. We now live in a world in which Judaism affirms the possibility of the Second Coming of the Messiah - and perhaps even of his divinity - as a fully acceptable belief.

The recent court decision, while it may (or may not) stop the overt worship of the Rebbe-Messiah in Lubavitch headquarters, will probably further anesthetize the larger community. Suffused with the warm glow of self-congratulation at our embrace of tolerance and love of our fellow Jews, we will continue to acquiesce in the ongoing Christianization of the Jewish faith.

The writer is Broeklundian Professor of History at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His book, The Rebbe, the Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference (Littman) has now appeared in an updated Hebrew version, Ha-Rebbe Melekh ha-Mashiach, Sha'aruriyyat ha-Adishut, ve-ha-Iyyum al Emunat Yisrael (Urim).

Comments so far...

1. lubavitch
yeshivish - israel
04/22/2006 23:19

at least in the yeshiva world it is not true that chabad is seen as orthodox. while culturaly they are very close to normative orthodox judaism they are by and large theologicly far removed from orthodoxy. it is only among the relativly uneducated (jewishly speaking) laity that lubavitch is seen as orthodox. in many yeshivas lubavitch is jokingly reffered to as the closest religion to judaism.

2. Where are the Rabbis?
04/23/2006 04:44

Last I checked, opinions in Judaism are not decided by journalists or professors, but by qualified Rabbonim (Rabbis). Being so, why is it that not a single noteworthy orthodox Rabbi came out against the Chabad movement? Why is it, that even after much effort on the part of the columnist, not one Rabbi banned the Lubavitch meat (which many orthodox Jews eat)? The conclusion is quite clear: the opinions of the columnist are by no means mainstream among orthodox Rabbis. And although believing the Rebbe to be the Messiah may be mistaken, it is clearly not "Avoda Zara" (Idol Worship).

3. D. Berger
04/23/2006 05:09

Dr. Berger, I have heard your argument on the status of Lubavitch messianism too many times, its about time you come up with a new one. I am not a Lubavitcher, but you are repeating the same argument over and over again. While the Lubavitchers are continuing to spread Judaism and Torah throughout the world you are busy trying to gain an audience for your book, which you have been unsuccesful of thus far. Maybe someone of real stature should take your position because I personnaly do not respect you and you will not get anywhere as you havent.

Chabad Presents: The Funniest Episode of "Joey" EVER...

No, I'm not kidding. Thanks to Dave at Israellycool for bringing this one to my attention...

To see Matt LeBlanc and Drea DeMatteo pronounce the word Chabad incredibly well, . (click link above to watch it)

And a question to ponder: why can't the writers of this bit, which is actually funny, write for the actual show, which is not? Might not be a bad fact, let's burn down the barn and start from scratch, making Joey and his sister Orthodox Jews instead. Hilarity, and hagim, will ensue.

On the Chabad v. Hillel Article

Also, a lengthy piece covered an interesting development that I know is mirrored in the more adult world: the choice between Hillel-type Jewish observance on campuses versus Chabad. This dilemma is playing out in Ohio's well-developed East Side Jewish community as well, and so I read with great interest about how Yale's Chabad is bringing in students while the Slifka house, the more traditional and larger locale for Yale's Jews (as well as anyone else who prefers to eat kosher food, particularly vegetarians and Muslims too), seems to be waning in popularity, though it remains the predominant gathering place for said kids.

Chabad allows for prostelitizing, while in general, Judaism forbades that. However, it's done in a way that seems to appeal to unaffiliated Jews more so than the images that unaffiliated Jews often have of the established movements (Reform, Conservative and Orthodox). Its reaching out consists of little if any monetary commitment, and, for families in particular, that is radically different from joining a congregation of one of the three main movements. There's also usually a representation that it is all about learning and feeling comfortable. And I know many families headed by parents who grew up in a traditional shul but now attend Chabad because of what they perceive of as a welcoming flexibility.

However, typically, Chabad doesn't allow men and women to pray together and girls cannot be bat mitzvahed in the same way as they can be in Reform and Conservative congregations. Still, in exchange for other philosophical or practical ways in which Chabad carries out Judaism, many families have wanted to affiliate with Chabad. Mine is not such a family and, when I shul-shopped several years ago, and interviewed the Chabad folks, it just didn't feel right to me.

In the end, like anyone searching for religious affiliation (if you are indeed such a person doing that, acknowledging that it's not for everyone), I went with what made me comfortable. And it wasn't Chabad.

The Yale Herald piece described a similar set of differences between the more formal Slifka house and the newer Chabad group. And, again, in the end, I expect that individuals will be attracted to what makes them most comfortable. Given that the students are either latent adolescents or young adults, they're in precisely that phase during which as many opportunities as possible should be explored anyway.

Journal snippets...

Anyway, when the menfolk came back, Dad, who just had his DNA testing to prove he's a cohain, talked it up to the Mohel. The Mohel was upset that Brian hadn't mentioned it before and he added it to the certificate. Brian doesn't talk about it for many reasons, primarily because he feels that it's segregationist, elitist, snobbish, and classist. The reason he tells people is that the Chabad Rabbi (who he's never listened to in his life) told him that if he married a convert, he forfitted the rights of the cohain. The Mohail and the Rabbi were horrified. It does mean you can't serve in the Temple, but it doesn't change WHO YOU ARE! They kept explaining.
Dad was vindicated. He's been trying to tell Brian that for ages. Of course this doesn't address Brian's real issues, but it amused hoppie anyway.
There was much Chabad bashing at the Bris.
Hoppie was amused by that. I was less amused. I feel like I owe Chabad quite a bit in terms of personal debt, but I'm no stranger to Chabad bashing. When I was in college, Marc read me an article quoting a Rabbi who said when asked, "If your son didn't want to be Jewish, what religion would you be okay with him being?"
"Chabad." answered the Rabbi.
Hoppie, who knows how I feel about Chabad, and knows how much I hate the Jewish infighting in general (although not in the same way as Brian) reminded me of the story on the way home.

...Chabad is a branch of what some people call "ultra orthodox" although I find that term offensive as well. They're a branch of Chassidim. I know you know some of this, but bear with me a minute. The Chassidic movement took a look at the village life in Eastern Europe (this is well preHolocaust) and decided that it lacked the joy in service of G-d. There had been a heavily influence of scientificly motivated and extremely well-educatated Jews that had profoundly influenced the rational and exporatory side of the religion, while nearly ignoring the Spiritual. It wasn't unusual, of course, the scientific Jews were under the same influences as Voltaire and Russo, but instead of loosing or breaking faith, they integrated it, much as you have done your whole life. But of course, the problem comes when you concentrate on any single area, to the exclusion of others, eventually the pendulum will swing back to pick up the things you missed. This missing ache in Judiasm found voice in a very charismatic traveler known today as the Ba'al Shem Tov. His discipline in Judaism focused on the lost mysticism and on appreciating G-d through the world and nature. He's the "Romantics" answer to the "Enlightenment" days, if I may play fast and loose with my analogies. Anyway, Chassidus spread like wildfire to a people who had been taught rationalism from birth and who lived somewhat dreary existances. Eventually, they became fragmented in the schools each following a different Rabbi or teacher. Chabad is a branch devoted to trying to trying, as most Chassidus branches are, to marry the two sides of the Jew, the rational and the romantic and bring balance by teaching both laws and the scientific study methods of the non-Chassidic world, and the mysticism of Kabbalah, and the natural world.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Seder review from Live Jounal..

On a slightly more recent wednesday, I went to Bellingham for a Passover seder at the house of the only orthodox Jews for miles and miles around. They somehow fit 60 people into this little house on South Hill and the rabbi's 20 year-old wife, who was way cool and welcoming and generous, made this gigantic Pesach meal for all of them. I was frankly astounded. Passover's my favorite holiday in any religion, but I'd never been to an orthodox seder before. There was too much talking before the eating, but it was fun. The rabbi and his wife are Lubavitch, which is a weird fringe sect of Judaism that seems to have gotten really really big and runs Jewish resource centers all over the world so they're not really that fringe I guess, but they're still weird. They believe that a rabbi from Brooklyn was the Messiah.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Families get ready for Passover feast

Thursday, April 13, 2006

By TREVOR MAXWELL, Portland Press Herald Writer

Copyright © 2006 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

The stove, countertops and sinks all have to be cleaned thoroughly.

All the food must be fresh and prepared from scratch, and it must be kosher for the eight-day holiday, containing no leavened products.

For Rabbi Moshe Wilansky's family in Portland, the traditional demands of Passover are not optional. They are keys to remembering the Israelites' exodus from Egypt.

"Passover is the miracle of Jewish people being released of 210 years of slavery and suffering," said Wilansky, executive director of Chabad House-Lubavitch of Maine, an outreach organization that is part of a branch of Hasidism.

"We are still cooking up a storm, there are a lot of things to prepare," Wilansky said Wednesday afternoon. His family expected about 50 people to join them in celebration of the Passover seder, the ritual feast. Passover, one of the three most significant holidays for Jews, officially began at sundown Wednesday.

Each food prepared for the seder carries symbolic importance, Wilansky said. Apples, nuts and wine, for example, are mixed together, representing the mortar used by Jews during their enslavement.

Passover also is known as "the feast of unleavened bread" in honor of the slaves, who did not have time to wait for bread to rise, according to the Book of Exodus. During the holiday, observant Jews eat varied forms of matzo, an unleavened bread made simply from flour and water.

Wilansky and other orthodox families rid their homes of leavened products and chometz - nonkosher food not allowed in the house during Passover. The rabbi said it is easier for Jewish families to follow the requirements because more "kosher for Passover" products are available at grocery stores.

"You go into Shaw's or Hannaford and you find products you didn't find 20 years ago or 10 years ago," Wilansky said. The stores may not offer the variety you would find in an orthodox neighborhood in Boston or New York, Wilansky said, but the selection has improved.

More than 21,000 kosher items are available in the United States, with 500 new items hitting the shelves this year, according to The New York Times.

Jon and Jodi Freedman and their three children belong to Temple Beth El, the orthodox congregation in Portland, and Congregation Bet Ha'am, the reform congregation in South Portland.

Jon Freedman said he had not strictly followed customary requirements for Passover in recent years, in part because he felt he could honor the past in other ways. But his family is paying more attention this year because the children are getting to an age where they can recognize the symbolism.

"The kids are getting older, and we want them to understand and appreciate it," Freedman said. "I did it growing up and my wife did it growing up."

Because the Freedmans do not have a lot of family members in the area, they planned to attend the seder Wednesday night at The Cedars, formerly the Jewish Home for the Aged in Portland.

"We decided instead of having people over here," Freedman said, "we would go over to celebrate with them."

Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at: